Ambient producer creates dark, experimental, occasionally monotonous collage of sounds
The German Netflix original series Dark is known for its eerie, tense mood and nothing encapsulates those feelings more than the show’s opening theme. The man responsible for that theme is German-born Sascha Ring, more commonly known as Apparat. Ring’s music has appeared in a wide range of shows: the climactic season four finale of Breaking Bad, the snowboarding documentary The Art of Flight and the cult TV series Nikita all bear his musical signature. Apparat’s latest release, 2020’s Soundtracks: Equals Sessions adds to his catalogue of dark and moody ambient music. It’s always atmospheric, often compelling and sometimes repetitive–but never unoriginal.
Soundtracks: Equals Sessions is dominated by synthesizers, but Ring employs a multitude of audio effects to shape and warp them. Album opener “Glass” is an engaging sonic starting point. Ring combines a few synth variants–some wobbly, some smooth, some airy–into a pretty background arrangement, contrasting that with a piercing electric guitar, a rumbling bass and frenetic beeps. Those biting elements pair well with the synthesizers to create a tense but immersive world.
Recorded live in Paris, the tracks “Love Theme” and “Slice Jam” are arranged as one coherent musical idea. The former song begins wistfully, featuring a detuned organ playing chords over white noise and some light synths. After what seems like an eternity of build up, a thundering bass enters the mix before cutting out and leaving only ambient synth chords, which segue into the latter track.
On “Slice Jam,” Apparat packs a ton into the mix. A staccato bass synth drives the first half of the track forward, accompanied by the beeps and organ from “Love Theme.” The second half of the song harkens to Kanye West’s “All of the Lights;” it’s buoyed by an 808 snare that intensifies as the instrumental builds and swells. Although the percussion on this track adds some real intensity to it, the song is ultimately a bit repetitive, taking too long to reach its climax.
“Sad Mug,” with its hollow and beeping synthesizers, shows some promise but the track ends after around a minute before it really gets anywhere. The next song, “Infected,” feels a bit more complete. Wobbly synths, violins and a decompressed bass synth take turns in the spotlight before making way for a powerful bass and alien sounding vocal accompaniments that create palpable unease.
The track “Big Romance” feels like it would be right at home in the soundtrack to Netflix’s Stranger Things. Because of the way Ring layers different synthesizers (one of which resembles the show’s opening theme), it feels as though the song is always breathing and pulsing. The instrumentation accompanying the synthesizers adds a refreshing, futuristic spin to the track. The next song, “Dark Anthem,” also recorded live in Paris, can only be described as thrilling. Its backbone is a pulsing bass paired with frantic clicking noises that create a feeling of being chased, and Apparat deserves credit for how he creates a genuinely gripping and fearful atmosphere.
“Knowing” is short but poignant, with Ring once again layering synthesizers together as they take turns swelling and decaying, constantly creating and resolving dissonance. Meanwhile, “Escape from Den” brings back the intensity of some of the previous tracks with its driving staccato bass resembling a rapid heartbeat. Wildly distorted vocals, violins and synths fill out the rest of the mix, adding to the uneasy mood of the song.
Like “Sad Mug,” the song “A Nightmare” has some engaging elements but is once again too concise. But the record ends on a high note with album closer “The Past,” a track filled with angst and unease. Once again, Ring uses a staccato bass synthesizer to keep things moving, only this time he adds vocals–seemingly about the fracturing of a close relationship–that create dissonance with the synth. Everything about the song feels dark and eerie. The instrumentation is often echoey, glitchy or intentionally off the beat, and the violin soundscape at the end is a delightfully somber conclusion to the project.
Without a doubt, Apparat incorporates an abundance of fascinating musical ideas into this record. His ability to shape synths into a diverse array of sounds is commendable, as is his ability to keep the album’s mood consistently dark, tense and moody. But Soundtracks: Equals Sessions has its fair share of flaws. It has a tendency to linger for too long in certain sections and there are some seemingly unfinished ideas on the project that were too short to have much of an effect on the listener. In its entirety, Apparat’s Soundtracks: Equals Sessions is a feat of sound engineering and immersion that sometimes falls flat over the course of its 40-minute duration.